Smartphones help in stricken city

By Adam Gifford

It took the upheaval caused by the Christchurch earthquakes to make Suzanne Wolton aware of how much smartphones were changing the way she worked and how much could be done with them.

A smartphone is at the centre of Suzanne Wolton's working world. Photo / Ted Baghurst
A smartphone is at the centre of Suzanne Wolton's working world. Photo / Ted Baghurst

As more people upgrade to smartphones there are growing fears that constant availability for work will destroy work-life balance. Maybe the question should really be how is it changing work? Life will go on, and people will find ways to make it fit with their technology.

As the head of distribution and customer relations for AA Insurance, Suzanne Wolton had to get down to the stricken city as soon as possible.

"What happened in Canterbury forced us to think differently. Although we were already using BlackBerries and iPhones, we had to get them going on a much larger scale than before," she says.

"Before Canterbury we had not had to mobilise large groups of staff at short notice and deploy them to a remote location where they didn't have access to power.

"When I came down with a team immediately after the September and February earthquakes, we had to bring our own generators to charge up the devices.

We couldn't rely on being able to go into local internet cafes or anything like that or even our office because the office was closed, so we had to use smart devices."

That gave the team connectivity. It also gave them tools they had not had previously, such as the ability to take photos of damage to customers' property on the phone and send it straight to the office.

"It's also useful for things like really urgent situations such as when you see a wall in imminent danger of collapse, you could take a picture and send it through to someone else involved, the Earthquake Commission or another insurance company, and say this needs immediate attention, rather than having to describe it.

"Staff who come to Christchurch to check on customers are able send them documents and get assessments on a much more immediate basis.

"From a practical standpoint the fact they have these devices means we have been able to know they are safe and well and send other resources down to them when there have been aftershocks.

"We couldn't have done what we've done with the earthquake or any of the subsequent response to Canterbury without smart devices. Customers have become used to using them. They want access to you 24/7 and they expect you to have the tools they use themselves."

Even away from Canterbury, Wolton says her smartphone gives velocity and immediacy.

"Seventy per cent of emails I get are things I need to know but do not need to respond to. The smartphone allows me to keep on top of stuff when I'm walking down the street or when I'm home in the evening so by definition it makes both my non-desk time and my desk time more productive.

"I don't need to be in the office to keep on top of meeting requests and emails and information flows.

"The other major change is smart devices have changed email from being a pull channel to a push channel. Three years ago I would have had to make a conscious decision to go into my office, to log in and pull my emails to me. Now I know that emails that need to get to me will be pushed through by the sender and likewise if I need to get an urgent message through to members of my team, all I've got to do is send it and they will be pretty much on to it immediately."

The most urgent messages go out by text on the same device, such as when there is a strong aftershock.

"The whole thing has changed our ability to communicate and act but also to make sure the right people get the right information. You know you are going to be able to get hold of someone 24/7 because they are going to have their smartphone with them."

Unlike many who feel their smartphone takes away their family time, Wolton finds it reassuring.

"I can go away for the weekend or go home in the evening and worry less. I know that if someone wants to get hold of me they can, that I've got access to all of the resources that I need to deal with a particular issue.

"There is the constant temptation to be looking at one's phone and constantly checking it which I suppose is an evil we have to fight against."

- NZ Herald

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